The secret of it is, I think, that no one ever hesitates. This is understood by all San Franciscans — that, no one is ever going to hesitate. That’s why there are no accidents. It’s the unexpected in people that makes disasters and creates a demand for traffic cops.
I try to cross the street as others cross. I choose a chalk mark and, pretending I am a native daughter, launch out. I get on fine — suddenly a monster machine is on me. Or would be if I did not jump back. I shouldn’t have jumped back it seems. But how was I to know? In the jaws of death you don’t reason, you jump. In jumping back I hit another machine and it stops. And that stops a street car. That stops something else. And in a minute Market street, the famous Market street, is all balled up because I jumped back. Drivers, red in the face, swear at me, not because they are cross, but scared-more scared than I.
Next time I am more careful. I look to the traffic cop for attention but, being a handsome man, he thinks I’m trying to flirt. Policemen should be homely. So I wait until the street is entirely empty. I wait a long time — it is empty — I run like a steer — and suddenly out of nowhere a machine is yelling at me individually and I know no more until, breathless and red, I reach the haven of the sidewalk.
Once I heard a horrible story of a man who lost control of his machine and ran up on to the sidewalk.
They say that San Francisco is known all over as the Port o’ Missing Men. That it is a city where a man may lose himself if he chooses, and that by the same token it is a good place to look for “my wandering boy tonight.” I can believe all this especially on Third street. Third street should be called by some other name or it should have a nickname. If it were in Seattle it would be known as “skid row.” Third street doesn’t describe it at all.
When I see a lot of men like that, wanderers, family men out of work, vagabonds, nobodies, somebodies, “rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief; doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief,” I always get to thinking how once each one was a tiny baby in a thin white dress, and how before that each one of them was born of a woman. If I could ever forget that, I could perhaps sometimes call men “a lot of cattle.” Come to think of it, it is men who call other men “cattle.” At any rate, I like to think that no woman would ever see men as less than the sons of mothers.
The Port o’ Missing Men is like the Port of San Francisco, and these men are like boats in from a foreign port, tramp steamers some of them, out of nowhere, going nowhere, no baggage, no traditions, men who’ll never get lost because they are on their way to Nowhere.
Yet, the majority of these men are going to some place, but where I do not know. What do they talk about in groups down there, tall, young fellows and strong middle-aged men and reminiscent, old ones down in the Port o’ Missing Men? If they’re out of work where do they sleep at night, and what do they have to eat? And have they any women folks?